Vanderbilt: Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations

Vanderbilt: Leading Strategic Innovation in Organizations

Overall Course Rating:  8/10

Completion Date: August 19, 2013
Platform: Coursera

—— Lectures ——
David A. Owens gives fantastic lectures that keep you engaged and interested throughout the course. Unlike other courses I have taken, I watched these lectures with a partner, and we couldn’t help but stop between videos and engage in great creative discussions.

Owens’s approach is different from most “creative thinking” approaches, and he makes it clear from the beginning (including the preview video). What does “thinking outside of the box” really mean? It’s so vague and can mean anything. Owens does a great job of trying to “expand the box” rather than thinking “outside the box”. The box for Owens were the six constraints most people back. The constraints were:

  1. Individual Constraints
  2. Group Constraints
  3. Organizational Constraints
  4. Industry/Market Constraints
  5. Societal Constraints
  6. Technological Constraints

My complaint about the presentation is that I wish his constraint graph (see image at the top) was more mathematical instead of just a generic atom-like object. Hopefully one day he can recruit a math Ph.D. to help him draw a more accurate picture of how to identify and bend the constraints stopping an individual from thinking creatively.

Owens also steps through the methods for a group to establish a quality creative process throughout the course. He discusses how the whole ideation process catalyzes a giant avalanche of ideas, which have to be whittled down to a few and then how the process expands again, exploring add-ons and features, until we finally end with the final, innovative, product or solution.

—— Assignments and Exams ——
The course offered two tracks: Standard Track and Studio Mastery Track. The difference was completion of a project to implement a innovative new idea, which didn’t have to be a new technological discovery, but just an innovative solution to an existing problem, such as a required sign-out sheet for the bathroom key that keeps getting lost by people in your office.

Both tracks required the completion of weekly quizzes, lectures, AND required participation in online discussions. The quizzes and surveys associated with this class were not very beneficial for me. The first two questions were usually:

  1. Did you complete the readings for this week?
  2. Did you watch the videos for this week?

These two are usually proceeded by a few simple questions from the video/reading. The online discussions had mixed results. Originally everyone had to post, but after seeing many similar, repetitive posts, students just had bump good posts instead. I’m not sure this had the learning effect Owens hoped for, but it was a good way to get more students on to the forums.

The group assignments from following the Studio Mastery Track are INCREDIBLY BENEFICIAL, especially if you can form a group with local people that you can meet with regularly. My group met weekly and it helped to clearly demonstrate many of the constraints Owens discusses. The peer review process is much less beneficial and, at times, can feel arduous after having so much fun “innovating” with your group. However, there has to be some kind of stick/carrot to motivate most of us students to form groups and go through the process.

—— Additional Intangibles ——
Navigating the layout of this class was the worst. I think among all of the online courses I have taken, the weekly activities of this class were the most difficult to navigate. If the class is offered again, I hope they hire a professional to layout all the course materials in a more clear and concise manner.

Owens (like many other MOOC professors) also pushes his own book which is parallel to the course, Creative People Must Be Stopped. I liked the course enough that I went out and bought myself a copy, and I find it a good way to review basics if I find myself running into any of the constraints taught.

—— Conclusion ——
I highly recommend this course, with the caveat being you will gain a lot more if you have 1 or 2 people around you that can work through the Studio Mastery Track together. It was fun, it was not time-consuming, yet I still feel as though I learned a lot that will be applicable to my life. That’s always the best kind of class.

—— Take this course if… ——

  • You find yourself having trouble being creative in any way
  • You have 1 or 2 friends interested in taking a fun course together

UVA: Foundations of Business Strategy

UVA: Foundations of Business Strategy

Overall Course Rating:  5/10

Completion Date: April 25, 2013
Platform: Coursera

—— Lectures ——
Michael Lenox of UVA’s Darden School of Business puts together a very basic business strategy course for students who have no experience in the field at all. The lectures are clear, succinct, short, but lack depth. But I believe that was Lenox’s intention, as the course was designed for people with no background, and it is perfect for them.

Students who have no prior business knowledge will leave comfortably knowing basic tools for analysis such as Five Forces Analysis, the Competitive Life Cycle, Capabilities Analysis, and the Diversification Matrix. Lenox won’t go into great depth explaining these tools, however he does apply them to real companies such as Google, Apple, Redhook, and Disney to give students a good feel of how to actually use the tools.

—— Assignments and Exams ——
Weekly quizzes test your understanding along the way, but they are not challenging and I can’t even recall if they counted towards the final grade. There was one final assignment that accounted for most, if not all of your grade in this course.

The final assignment was for student’s to do their own analysis of a company. I myself did a brief slideshow analysis of LinkedIn. It was crude, but it was good practice to try and apply all the analysis tools to a real company.

The final assignment was probably the only worthwhile exercise. It could have been more beneficial if there was more detailed feedback on the assignment, but regardless it was good practice using the toolkit.

—— Additional Intangibles ——
Lenox’s videos used a black background, which few people probably notice, but was a lot easier on my eyes than the typical white background. It was also nice when I was watching the videos at night in a dark room.

I’m also not sure if Coursera’s graders were working properly as I was actually issued two different Statements of Accomplishment in April and then again in May. In addition, it only displays my grade as “You earned 100.0%”, which is the same as my Principles of Economics for Scientists course which experienced technical difficulties during the final grading period.

—— Conclusion ——
The lectures are easy to watch, and the assignments take very little time. This is a MOOC that requires minimal time investment from its students. The class is ideal for students with no background in business and want just a taste of the kind of (non-quantitative) business analysis that investors do.

The course just began again on Coursera on January 13, 2014. It’s not too late to join in and learn the basics of business strategy analysis!

—— Take this course if… ——

  • You want a quick and basic crash course in analyzing companies
  • You’re looking for a new way to analyze your long-term stock investments
  • You don’t want to commit a lot of time to a MOOC